Travel Diaries: Paris

It goes without saying, Paris is considered as one of THE most romantic places in the world. The mystique, the enigma, the exoticism, the cuisine, the culture and last, but not least, the vibe of this city is extraordinary! I’m sure we all know at least one person who’s been to Paris for either a honeymoon or some kind of romantic getaway. I romanticised Paris in similar ways, except, my trips here have always been anything but!

The first time I set foot in Paris was due to a missed connecting flight on my way home from New York to Bombay. Where once I had dreamt of locking lips with a beautiful girl in front of the Eiffel tower, here I was posing in front of it with a guy I’d just met on my flight…….as I said, anything but romantic! Fortunately my second trip back to the city was more deliberate, albeit decidedly subdued as I was travelling for work. However, I was happy to get a couple of days off work to explore the city and take photos.

I stayed at the “Aparthotel Adagio Paris Centre Tour Eiffel” (quite a mouthful!), an apartment style hotel nestled in the heart of the city and only a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower. In fact, I had a beautiful view of the tower from my room and no, I didn’t try throwing stones at it from my window! Apartment style hotels are great, they come with most amenities available in regular hotels but usually lack room service. This generally means lower tariffs and not to mention, the flexibility of cooking for yourself in case you’re very particular about what you eat or are traveling on a tight budget. However, it would be sacrilege to not experience the cuisine in Paris while you’re there, so I’d highly recommend not cooking in your room!

My first stop was none other than the Eiffel Tower itself. This area clearly attracts large crowds and seems to be constantly brimming with activity. One can expect to see tourists, street artists, musicians, acrobats and everything in between. I have always enjoyed watching street performers, so I made my way to a magician that seemed to have quite a crowd gathering around him. His act was the classic, “guess which cup out of the three has your money and if you do, I’ll double it!”. For some reason he picked me from the sidelines and asked me to bet. I was apprehensive, but boy was this guy coercive! Somehow he managed to get me to bet 20 euros, but when I guessed which cup the money was under he immediately tried to switch the money out and passed it to a “spectator” standing right behind him. I assume he was hoping that I’d somehow not notice this, unfortunate for him, I did. I quickly realised that most of the spectators weren’t really spectators at all, just a part of his act. Lucky for me, the ruckus that I created attracted the attention of some police officers nearby who quickly diffused the situation and helped me get my money back. Jeez, I felt like one dumb tourist!

Dusting the embarrassment off and picking up what was left of my ego, I strolled towards the Eiffel tower trying to lay to waste any memory of that unexpected, and frankly, jarring experience. As I walked into the park, I was approached by a flock of kids carrying some kind of a donation box. Personally, I find kids & puppies irresistible, I couldn’t stop smiling as these kids giggled and smiled while surrounding me and muttering things in French. But as I was beaming from ear to ear, trying to play with these kids and understand what they were saying, a woman came running towards me, apparently trying to chase these kids away. Wielding an umbrella she looked like someone that was trying to swat flies or protect me from a swarm of bees that had flown amok! When the kids had finally dispersed, she asked me, in broken english, to check if all my belongings were intact. I suddenly realised what was going on and hurriedly patted myself down…..Passport: CHECK! Wallet: CHECK! Whew….I’d apparently dodged a bullet for the second time in a span of 20 minutes! Clearly this wasn’t my day. Despite this, I made a concerted effort to not be consumed by disdain and finally made my way to the tower; the effort was totally worth it! This monument deserves to be designated as one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, it looked majestic. Walking around the tower was quite amusing in many respects, I doubt I’ll ever see as many people in one place with their necks craned skywards at the same time.

The next day I decided to make my way to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. For those that aren’t familiar with this place, this cemetery is home to Jim Morrison’s grave. I’ve idolised Morrison since I was a teenager and have emulated him on one too many karaoke nights. I even have a figurine (no, its not a doll!) of him on my desk. Given the fact that I own almost all of The Doors’ music on vinyl, CD & cassette along with several Doors t-shirts, there was no way on earth I would give up this opportunity to visit Morrison’s grave and pay homage to the man whose music has been so influential during my formative years. Almost as if nature knew what the weather should be like when one visits a cemetery, it turned out to be overcast with light showers, just like the movies. And as I happened upon Morrison’s tomb, there was a clap of thunder. I couldn’t help but think to myself, how appropriately eerie, yet perfect! Peppered with wilted flowers, a beer bottle and even a stray strawberry, it was apparent that many a fan had left behind whatever they deemed as an appropriate gift for one of the most celebrated, yet admonished singer-songwriter-poet of his era. I tossed him an unlit cigarette, clicked a photograph and walked away humming, “Riders on a storm” with a smile on my face.

After getting a glass of wine and some crusty baguettes with cheese at a nearby café, I decided to head to the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral. The pictures that I’d seen both online and in travel catalogues did not do justice to this place. The cathedral looks surreal both from the inside and out, the architecture and attention to detail is truly awe-inspiring. As a photographer, I can promise you, its easy to get lost for hours on end within the magnificent confines of this breathtaking structure. Inside, I saw many who were exploring the cathedral, some youngsters who sat on the sidelines and sketched and others who had come to light a candle and pray. What a cocoon of ethereal activity! Seeing that I had only a few more hours left of my final day in Paris, I grabbed a latte and a croissant and made my way to The Louvre. The pyramid in the centre surrounded by the Louvre Palace is stunning, my only regret was not being able to see this gorgeous structure by night, but hopefully there will be another time.

Exhausted from the day’s activities and realising it was way past dinner time on a week night, I made my way to a small restaurant that appeared to be unusually busy for that time of the evening. I’d missed dinner service, but the waitress was nice enough to bring me a charcuterie plate to go with my wine. I spent the rest of my evening making conversation with the folks around me and getting mildly intoxicated on some delicious wine. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to close my last day in Paris.

It goes without saying, Paris, I’ll be back. Au Revoir (for now!).

(Click here for the gallery)